A group of US lawmakers on Thursday signed a letter urging Israel’s addition to the US Visa Waiver Program.
The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, was signed by 18 US Senators, including Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), who shared the letter on Twitter and wrote, “Israel is one of our closest allies, and I’m pleased to join Sen. Rick Scott and Senator Jacky Rosen's effort to increase national-security coordination and travel between our nations by urging Israel’s addition to the Visa Waiver Program, which will provide a significant boost to TN tourism.”
The letter reads, “We write in support of certifying Israel as an eligible country for participation in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which permits citizens from participating countries to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa from a U.S. Department of State (DOS) officer at a consulate abroad. We believe that adding Israel to the list of eligible countries would achieve the two explicit missions of the VWP program: to enhance national security and to boost the U.S. travel and tourism sector.”
“Israel - our closest ally in the Middle East - is a perfect candidate for the Visa Waiver program. Under the VWP, countries must issue electronic passports, report information on all lost and stolen passports to the U.S. through the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), and share information on travelers who may pose a terrorist or criminal threat'. Were Israel to enter the VWP, these measures would improve law enforcement cooperation and counterterrorism collaboration between the U.S. and Israel, which would deepen our relationship with a key ally and trading partner. Israel is also an economically prosperous country that is a major U.S. security partner, presenting a high-volume, low-risk opportunity to add to the program,” the lawmakers write.
They note that adding Israel to the VWP will also directly support tourism to the United States, and create jobs and economic growth in states across America.
Mayorkas said recently that the United States is considering adding four countries, including Israel, to its visa waiver program that allows citizens to come to America without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
The White House said in August, after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasized "his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program."
Including Israelis in the Visa Waiver Program is an issue that Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has been working on.
During a recent conversation with Mayorkas, Erdan stressed that he sees high importance in the inclusion of Israel in the program, and said that accepting Israel into the program would illustrate the special relations between the two countries and peoples.
In a subsequent post on Facebook, Erdan noted that a large majority of Israelis who apply for a visa and are refused are discharged soldiers who seek to visit the US after completing their IDF service and are refused a visa because US authorities mistakenly think they are seeking to settle in the country long term.